The Royals are in first place now, as you surely know, and between your parade planning and in-a-small-way-it-feels-like-we’ve-won-the-World-Series jokes there is something else worth noting here.
Because the amazing thing isn’t that they are in first place this “late” in the season for the first time in a decade as much as it is that they’re in first place this “late” in the season with exactly four hitters going at anything close to expectations.
Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler, in particular, are hitting .264/.305/.380 and .267/.321/.348, respectively.
That’s balanced, somewhat, by Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain pacing for what would be career years. Also, Alex Gordon and Sal Perez are on track for very good seasons, but nothing their talents or track records suggest to be unsustainable.
The biggest thing over the course of 70-plus games, obviously, has been run prevention. After one of the best defensive seasons in recent baseball history last year, the Royals are again among the game’s best by FanGraphs’ Defensive Runs Saved. Through Tuesday, they were tied for ninth in baseball with 13 runs saved (the equivalent of a shade more than one win), behind only the A’s and Orioles among American League teams.
The pitching has been terrific. They are fourth in the league with a 3.74 ERA which is a bit skewed by disaster outings from Aaron Brooks and Donnie Joseph. All five starters have ERAs better than the league average. Greg Holland and Wade Davis have essentially turned it into a seven-inning game for the opponents.
And the biggest thing during this surge, obviously, has been run scoring.
The Royals have won 13 of their last 17 through Tuesday, and are scoring 5.5 runs per game with a cumulative on-base-plus-slugging percentage of .773. Oakland leads the American League with 5.13 runs per game, and Toronto is tops with a .765 OPS. Before the surge, the Royals were scoring 3.8 runs per game with a .654 OPS.
So, obviously, this isn’t going to keep up.
But the thing is, the Royals don’t need to lead the league in scoring to be a playoff team. They just need to be average, or even close to it.
There are positive signs, if you look for them. The offensive surge coincides with Butler hitting — he’s at .367/.409/.500 during this run. Moustakas is hitting .234/.308/.426 since returning from Omaha, which is an enormous improvement.
All of this and Eric Hosmer is in an awful slump.
The Royals will say this: the important thing isn’t being in first place on June 18 as much as it is being in first place at the end of September.
They are catching a hot streak right now, obviously, and you’ll lose a lot of money betting they will continue to hit like the league’s best offense over the last 92 games. But if they are, say, the eighth or ninth or even 10th best hitting team the rest of the season this can be a playoff team.
There’s enough here to believe the larger mission is sustainable. This isn’t 2003, in other words.
This one has a chance.